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Softer Market Means Rocky Times Ahead in Tech Sales


Hiring Freezes, Layoffs, and Transitions

     Rocky Times in Tech Sales: Hold On or Move On?

Because I am a headhunter, you’re probably not surprised I’ve been hearing about layoffs all year. I’m reminded of the first recession I experienced. 

Looking back, it certainly was not the worst recession I’ve ever recruited in (Thank you, 2008!), but it was something I had never experienced before, and it has shaped my perspective. 

So pull up a seat, and let’s get into the time machine.

We are headed to the year 2000, and I was a new recruiter. I led and managed a small team, and my boss told me I had to let go of one of my teammates. We were officially having layoffs across the board. 

Shrinking Sales Teams

Every group had to make a few cuts. 

So, no matter how hard I tried negotiating, I wouldn’t spare anyone on my team. I was in my twenties and never imagined I’d be firing someone, but I had zero choice in the matter. After the news about what I would have to do sunk in, I decided to call my dad. 

If you’re wondering, I don’t normally call my dad in the middle of the day on a Wednesday, but I was stressed and couldn’t leave my desk. 

We had an open bullpen, so I quietly dialed my dad’s number. I wasn’t expecting him to answer. And if you think this sounds like the “boiler room,” you may not be wrong. 

My dad picked up, “Dad,” I whispered. “I’m at the office, and they want me to fire someone!”

In my mind, I had imagined he’d be surprised and fairly upset about the news and maybe ask me if I was working for an unscrupulous company. 

My dad only really wanted to know why I was whispering. But after repeating myself, he heard what I was saying and gave me some judicious advice.

But before I tell you what he shared with me, let me be clear that letting people go stinks for all parties involved. Although, this is equivalent to proclaiming Avatar and the Titanic were money-makers. It’s unnecessary to exaggerate well-known truths.

And if you’ve seen your colleagues exit stage left, you feel sad at first, and then once the sadness dissipates, relief washes over you. 

And that relief breeds feelings of guilt because you’re happy.  Yes, it’s true. You’re happy because you’re thankful that you still have a job, that you’re one of the “lucky” ones, and that your regular paycheck will be in the bank as planned and according to schedule.

After all, you have mountains of inflationary bills to pay, and every time you go to the grocery store, you wonder how seventy-five dollars of groceries fits into one or two grocery bags. 

Maybe you think fondly about that savings account you’ve been meaning to pay more attention to.

Salespeople Move In and Move Out

But eventually, you start to wonder if you should continue on with your current employer or if finding shelter elsewhere is the prudent thing to do. Are the rocky times worth seeing through?

This reminds me of an old Brian Tracy adage:

  • 1/3 of people are entering into the sales profession right now
  • 1/3 are staying put
  • 1/3 are on the way out exploring other lines of work

Although it helps to be good at basic math in sales, becoming a sales professional is not like becoming an accountant. The accountant has a lot of job stability. The accountant rarely stares down the idea of being fired for poor performance.

On the other hand, the salesperson need not wait in anticipation of an annual performance review.

And recently, if you’re in tech sales, you know layoffs have been felt by sales and marketing teams across the sector.

So, if you’ve found yourself out of a job, hitting a wall, worried about making quota, or seeing your colleagues laid off, this is NOT as abnormal as it may feel.

It’s the winter season of the business cycle.

How bad will the winter be?

The experts all around us seem to know, but the truth is, no one really does.

But if job security is one of your key values, tech might be a difficult industry to work in. This is primarily because tech was created out of disruption. And most disruption is out of your control: mergers, acquisitions, new investors, new leadership, new ideas, new CEOs, etc..

Minimizing Risk Through Deliberate Decisions

However, there are ways to mitigate risks. Some simple ways are listed here from easier to more difficult, including:

  • Believing in what you’re doing
  • Saving more of your commissions
  • Making regular effort to be a contributing team member
  • Proactively building your network outside your current employer
  • Being good, if not excellent, at your job
  • Work with experienced leaders who have won in the past

Finding stability in other areas of your life may help balance things out. But if it’s still too much, it could be time to explore other industries. Instead of waiting for a unicorn opportunity to come along, now is a good time to get busy, reinvent yourself if necessary, and evaluate your options.

When You Know You Know

If you know tech sales is for you- then bravely weather this storm. Now, I’ll share with you what my dad shared with me.

He said, “This is not the first downturn, nor the worst, and it will certainly not be the last. Today’s terrible storm will look like a rainbow five years from now. And in the moment, we don’t always agree with what life has in store for us, which causes us great frustration, because life’s circumstances are not meeting our current expectations. But you have to move forward, and you must believe things will work out.”

And you know what? He was right. Things work out, but don’t always follow our timeframes or plans.

When I started my recruiting journey more than twenty years ago, it was at the tail end of a tech boom on the cusp of a market bust. 

In the beginning, I would go to get-togethers after work in San Francisco, and everyone (myself included) in the city seemed to be a recruiter of one type or another. Then, in 2001, the booming era ended, and layoffs ensued.

As a result, getting someone to work in tech after the bubble burst became difficult. 

Tech companies had to fight lackluster reputations for many years, and people were much less interested in working for tech than they are today.

But tech companies went to work on doing what they do best—building things. They built their teams, rebuilt their reputations, and they played the long game. And they focused on revamping their image and becoming a place people wanted to be. They began offering perks, like free food. And unlike many other industries, they rarely fired ANY salesperson they hired for at least one year.

This allowed all new sales hires time to learn the products, build pipelines, and close business. 

So, if things didn’t work out after a year, and they were fired, it would be difficult for the salesperson to feel surprised. This strategy worked. And eventually, tech companies transformed their reputations into what we know today as cool, fun, and exciting modern tech companies funded by sharp investors.

Remembering the Past

As for those recruiters in 2000, most were relatively new to the business and subsequently laid off. 

Many didn’t get back into recruiting. When the bubble burst, recruiting roles were in short supply, so most newly minted recruiters migrated into other professions. Some smart ones even moved into tech sales!

Hiring Freezes, Layoffs, and Transitions

So if you find yourself a bit doomsdayish on the space, remember what goes up comes down. 

Downturns happen, and so do booms. This is worth remembering. And I can assure you, the tech apocalypse is not here. Not yet, at least. Technology is still our future.

The sun will shine again on tech. And it’s perfectly normal for people to move in and out of different functions and businesses based on the times, preferences, and market circumstances. And if you want to, you can too. 

Or, you can use other strategies like mitigating your known risks to weather the current and future storms.

After all, this is the only business I know of that regularly manufactures unicorns. Plus, unicorns look good with rainbows!

Sonja Hastings SCR123

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